What’s My Horrorscope? By Brandon Scott

For Nicole Dragonbeck, who soars on dragon wings.

She stared at the word “horrorscope,” and the vexation at the misspelling faded as terror threatened to overwhelm her.

For upon further looking, further observation, Autumn discovered that the name, though normally a typo at the best of times, was taken literally in this case. Almost without thinking, like curiosity had overridden even her most base functions, she had traced her finger down the line and found her own section.

She was a Leo, and that had meant nothing to her before this moment—beyond vague notions of leadership. She was not a firm believer in this sort of stuff, but her mom took such superstitions seriously, and she wondered what her mother would make of this. What she would think of the fate spelled out on the paper for her.

Once Autumn’s fingers touched the spot on the ancient-looking calendar, her finger stuck firm, and she immediately tugged in response—that initial rush of terror coming into her heart. With a yelp, she tugged the skin off entirely, losing her fingerprint, and a drop of blood dribbled down the paper and collected at the bottom.

“Shit,” Autumn mumbled, her emotion cooling without a trace—gone as quick as it came, and she reached forward to rub at the bloody spot when the man from before returned. He’d disappeared shortly after her arrival in the shop but now appeared back as if summoned.

Her heartbeat jolted at the idea that he very well may have been summoned.

“Ah, I see, that is one of our most popular products. Big with the horror junkies. I don’t know what you call such a fan club, but they love this thing.”

Autumn glanced back at the horrorscope, worried he might mind the blood, but, and this did not strike her as a good thing at all, the liquid had disappeared.

“I can see why,” Autumn said. “It’s messed up.”

The man chuckled before wiping at his white wisp of a beard. “Yes, I suppose it can be such if you think of things that way.”

He peered at her, and Autumn felt small. She had no idea why, but the man gave off an aura of being much, much larger than the spindly shopkeeper standing before her.

“But,” he continued, “I think you just don’t like it because you do not like the thing it has in store for you.”

There the sensation was again. That jolt. That irrational sledgehammer of emotion that hit her in the chest. Her hand curled into a fist. She glanced at the paper and scoffed.

“It’s all fake,” Autumn said. “They write it broadly, you know, make it fit anyone. Plays to expectations.”

“We have a skeptic,” the man said. His eyes were cold, Autumn concluded after a second. His snow-white beard was not the only thing about him frigid: an icicle in a human shell.

“Well, fine then,” he said, “Tell me: how specific is that prediction? That sound like a horror situation which is bound to apply to anyone?”

She glanced at it again and read the words again. She did not believe in gods either. So, she repeated her scoff.

“Yeah, right…I’m going to head out now. Sorry to take up your time.”

The man snapped his fingers and took a step away from her. “Oh, trust me. You did not waste my time at all.”

Before she could say anything or even react, the shop blacked out—one light at a time. Each one shorting out and eating the space in front of her.

She took a step back in alarm and found herself outside, the cold in her lungs again, the shop door sealed and with a “closed” sign on the wood. The inside dark and black and void.

Only for every light to bolt on at once. And for a massive, wide, squirming horde of interconnecting muscles and power lines to scream with a wide-open mouth and spasm into lashing, sparking, fervent madness, before the light blinked back out again.

Autumn experienced that fear once more, organic this time, her entire frame refusing to move. Her brain caught up to the picture and then tried to reject the burning afterimage in her own mind.

The cold was harsher on her now with a sharp edge. She looked around, and only now realized that on top of everything, it was late. It was too late. The sound of the city dead, coldly lifeless.

The storefront, despite being closed, was a mouth to her, and she sprinted away from it. Not wanting it to eat at her.

“It’s nothing,” she said to herself and did not convince herself at all. “He set up a projector…or something.”

She said these things as she ran, and it did nothing except make her run faster, and with more and more panic.

But, still, the horrorscope stayed in her head: the prediction. She could not shake the words, and a soft whimper, almost unconscious, like the urge to touch the paper, leaked out her mouth.

She was still not getting her breath. But she kept her body going toward her destination. Lurching forward.

You will find things have changed. The Gods of the Old World are merging with the New and the Modified and you will find that you will play a part in their rising and their understanding of the new world. You will experience sudden and violent changes to the positioning of something inside your body. Perhaps even some portions will be outside of you, on an altar.

Your lucky numbers are 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2.

She found herself mouthing those words. But she refused to accept them. And even when she came home, and found every single window with the curtains pulled back, and her parents standing stock still, each of them in a different window, with the entire house bathed in the entire battalion of her houses light fixture’s outflow, she still hung onto that idea that it was all nothing but a hippy-dippy bit of mumbo jumbo.

When she noticed the thin, cable-like things apparently dug into both of her parent’s ears, as they stood there and smiled, she was less certain.

Much less certain.

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Jumping Back by Nicole DragonBeck

For Desi, thank you for the abundance of Starters for my round three of SMFS (yes, I’ve been doing it that long), I think it is fitting that this one is last ❤

What kind of disturbed mind would have created the sight before my eyes and why?

Dystrin took a moment he did not have to gaze with unveiled shock and disgust at the painting in front of him. Some fanatic of the neo-Neoclassic had poured his heart and soul into the canvass, and that just made Dystrin sadder. Whatever happened to the magic of capturing beauty and truth with the paint and brush? How did it come to this confused effort to impress with an pseudo-erudite aloofness?

The so-called work of art was a dissonant riot of stark lines that did not touch or align at any point, against a thundercloud of splotches painted by someone who used a color wheel as a dartboard and threw blindfolded. Dystrin’s mind, so attuned to the melding of color and shape to create a likeness of what is and capture the magic within spaces and objects, had trouble comprehending how a mind that would make this could function.

The sound of footsteps echoing in the dark recesses of the museum drew Dystrin’s gaze to the vast space behind him, and reminded him that he did not have time to be critiquing each painting as he went. He needed to find a specific one and jump back.

He ran through marble halls, trying to keep his own footsteps from giving him away, but it was hard on the polished floors. At last he came to the wing of old paintings, the ones with real magic, old magic that the painters of this day and age could only touch upon and dream about.

Here, everything was hushed by thick velvet curtains. At least the curators gave these paintings the respect they deserved, and instead of crowding them together like peasants in front of a street stage, each was given its own wall, and a single light above each haloed the painting with a soft glow.

It was even harder for Dystrin to restrain his urge to stop and gaze at these, with wonder and reverence this time, but he really needed to get back before they caught him. It would be difficult to explain his presence here, and he had none of those all-important pieces of plastic identification that they loved so much.

He could move faster here because the plush carpet swallowed his footsteps, and he quickly reached the end of the wing, where the painting he sought lay displayed on a tiered dais guarded by diamond columns. But as Dystrin’s eyes traveled the length of the great painting like a lover’s caress, his heart sank. No, it can’t be!

He looked deeper, blue eyes probing the visible, and the invisible, trying to find the pull of the magic, but it was flat and empty. To the eye, it may have been identical, but he did not look with only his eyes. They’d switched it out with a replica. The original was probably somewhere in the vaults under lock and key. Leaving Dystrin stranded here.

He glanced around with wild eyes, heaving great gulps of air as he considered his options, trying to quiet the panic in his mind as the guards with their dogs came closer. He looked up, left with only one choice. He was going to have to choose one of the others, and then somehow, figure out how to jump back here and get to his painting. It was a frightening concept, not the least because no one had ever been known to do that, but better to be stuck there than caught by the men here.

Some of the paintings here were still originals, he could feel it, and Dystrin thanked whatever gods watched over this place for that. It seems people get stingy with beauty when they forget how to make it. The first three paintings he passed as he backtracked were empty forgeries, and while the fourth pulsed with magic, the scenery was a vast and stormy sea, lightning illuminating the silhouette of a lone ship. He was willing to take a risk, but he was not suicidal. The next six were no good either, and just as Dystrin was starting to think of a back-up plan for his back-up plan, he found one.

It was quiet and soothing, drawing the eyes in to the detail with the promise of treasure in the subtle lines and carefully placed colors. The forest opened to a grassy hill, and at the top was a fortress beautiful in its simplicity. This one will do.

The lights of the guards’ torches flashed erratically in the darkness, illuminating walls and arches and then leaving them invisible an instant later. The dogs yipped and howled as they sensed their quarry nearby.

Dystrin steeled himself, grabbed the gilt frame, and hauled himself into the painting. Space and time undulated past him, his eyes watered and his ears popped. Behind him, the light and sound from the other world faded as the one at the end of the tunnel grew more solid, until at last Dystrin stood among the trees he had been looking at just a moment before.

He looked behind him and saw a vague shape of a painting in the air, depicting a room in a museum, dark purple hangings protecting the precious art like a mother duck folding her ducklings underwing. As the portal faded, the image too would fade, until just the soft stirring of the leaves and the twitter of birds in the trees surrounded him.

And if the guards in the museum cared to look at the painting on the wall, they would see that a tall, lean figure with dark hair now stood among the trees, shrewd blue eyes gazing at them as a small smile played on his lips, taunting them by being right in front of them and totally out of reach.

But none of them looked, they just rushed by with their dogs. A moment later the dogs doubled back to where the scent was strongest and sat, tongues out, panting with satisfaction while the guards tried to get them to continue the chase. In the morning, when the first patrons of the day began to filter through the hallowed halls, the figure in the painting was long gone, leaving the little forest as empty as it had ever been.

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First SMFS Book is released!!!

Hello All!!!

I am excited to announce the release of the first of the Stories My Friends Started anthologies.

This is a collection of 5 stories, started by you, our friends, from each of the amazing Ink Slingers.

Please download, read, enjoy and review!!!

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Caffeinated Anarchy by Brandon Scott

For Kalvin, I don’t think I know you, but I like the cut of your word-based jib.

We are all reasonable men, all. But for all reason there is an edge, and I am at mine.

And, of all the things to push me there, it’s the thing that—perhaps—at the end of the day, I always knew would be my trigger. And that is caffeine. Sweet, sweet coffee and caffeine.

And the edge is the barista.

And, though she would not know it, her words, in this moment, I’m sure, will make her a historical figure. Songs will mention her by name—if only because she bothered to wear a name tag this fateful day.

“Here’s your drink,” she says to me and smiles with a soft smile. She has this reddish-brown hair, and this freckle dusting on her nose, which I love.

But, I put the drink up to my mouth, and in a second I do not love her anymore. Not in the littlest bit. Through the faint slit in the cap, the liquid inside sloshes into my throat and spirals down.

The acrid taste of the lack of cream is on my tongue and I die inside. I just…die. I cannot. As I said, this is my edge. I’ve dealt with enough shit, enough scorn. I failed a test, not an hour before this—and I think my girlfriend is fucking my English teacher. Which means she’s bi, if not flat-out gay, and this will not stand any moment longer.

They said having a pocket knife in class was enough to get arrested. I do not doubt it, but I still pull out the sucker I’m always carrying, and before she can say anything to defend herself, I plunge the blade into her throat with a war cry of the ages.

“I asked for milk!”

She gasps and looks at me in what I hope is pure shame. I pray she understands what she did to me in her final moments as her blood trickles down over the counter and she falls with rolling-back eyes.

I turn on my retracting motion, throwing my coffee over the counter into one of the other baristas and finish rotating to stare at the line behind me.

Standing there, as expected, is many other twenty-somethings: my people. And they have the glazed over expressions of people still in shock. My shirt is sticking down with blood, and I’m still gripping the offending knife.

I drop the knife and hold up both hands to curtail the incoming screams. I could just tell from the air they were coming.

“Okay,” I say, and my confidence surprisingly rises, “I know what you must think, but I have something to say.”

A pause and the woman in front of me has her mouth shrink back from a gasp to a neutral expression and cocks her head. The other people pause, looking confused.

“Well, okay then: explain,” she says.

I breathe out, nice and slow. “Alright, she gave me the wrong coffee, I asked for cream because straight black coffee is disgusting.”

“So, you killed her?” came another person’s response. “That seems like an overreaction.”

I narrow my eyes as all these things I’ve always wanted to say bubble to the surface. The cops will be here, no doubt, in the next minute. But I need to get this all off my chest.

“Yes, I did kill her. And you want to know why? Because that’s what the response should be! How many annoying people are there? Have you seen the people trickling into the newest classes at schools? It’s a fucking zoo! I say, that we, as millennials, have the right to murder those who offend us, even when it’s only a little bit.”

“What about safe spaces?” asks a familiar voice, coming from the back. Kallie, my literature sucking girlfriend, walked in during my speech and now she stood with her overalls and fedora.

I sigh and nod my head. “Yeah, obviously, we honor safe spaces. That just makes sense, but what I mean is…”

“Should we kill, like, equally?” Kallie chimes back into the conversation I’m having with my mob. “Like, we should honor women by murdering them more, or less? And what about, like debates…?”

With a skill, a skill I did not know I knew, I flick the blade through the crowd, nearly hitting a random dude with dreadlocks, before it plunges into Kallie’s forehead and sinks deep. She shudders and falls over, and the others clear to give her body some space.

Another long silence, and I hold out my arms, before looking back to step into the now empty—but full of the blood from the other girl I killed—main coffee-making space.

And I spread my arms out even further and smile. “Do you see what I mean! Is that not liberating? This is awesome!”

Another pause, and during it, I turn and add some cream to a straight black coffee, just like I like it. I add caramel sauce, since I can, and drain it in one gulp.

“This is the future. Am I right or am I right?”

One guy answers with a question. “Do we get to have free coffee too?”

I place my hands together and nod. Looking like I’m praying. “Oh yes. All you can drink. Let’s raid this place!”

The front girl smiles and bops her head. “Yeah, okay, yeah! This is perfect! Let’s do this!”

I pump my fist above my head and laugh. “Yeah, this is a perfect idea! Let’s go, let’s go! Coffee!”

The entire crowd cheers so damn loud. They make me almost deaf with the din of them, and I step back, taking with me another cup of coffee, as they stream into the space, fighting for the caramel.

I keep stepping back, going outside, and I feel impressed as my phone vibrates with more and more updates. Apparently, someone in the coffee shop recorded my revolutionary speech and posted it online.

The video went viral already, and my accounts are lit.

I slurp down my coffee and realize what this could all mean. What I could now do, as the world saw all I’d done, all I’d showed as the truth. Anything was possible now.

So, I figure I’ll go kill my English teacher before finals. And make sure not to piss off anyone in the process. After all, they had the right to plug me in the face same as I’d do to them.

I may now be a wanted criminal, and somewhat soon, probably, a starter of a murder horde and genocide, but that did not mean I was a hypocrite. No, never that.

I have my standards.

 

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All Downhill From Here by Erika Lance

For Crystal, I truly do hope you enjoy this.

All they could see was the open ocean and fluffy clouds of cotton candy 🍭

Marcie looked around and it appeared that she was on this beach with ten other people.

She did not know any of them.

She looked into the sky again and the clouds in fact were swirled with pink and an almost unnatural blue.

There was coughing coming from one of the other people. He was an older gentleman, looked like he was in his early sixties. He was on his hands an knees and his entire body spasming.

As she tries to stand a wave of dizziness hits her and she feels herself land back on the sand.

When her vision cleared she realized there was a marking on her forearm. It said: 17GHT433GFS. What the hell is going on? she thought.

She looked over at the man still coughing as he threw up something metallic. She began to move closer to him, there were others attempting the same. All of them seemed to be suffering from the same inability to stand.

As she neared the man, his eyes closed and he started to sway. She tried to hurry before he fell over but she was too late.

She arrived at the same time as two of her other companions. The man was no longer breathing and the metallic item he had thrown up started making a high-pitched noise. There was also a dim red light that started pulsing.

Marcie looked down at the man’s arm and he had a similar marking to hers. The numbers were all the same but one: 12GHT433GFS.

The noise was getting louder and one of the companions, a man, kicked the item into the ocean. The noise dulled and after about thirty seconds there was a small explosion in the water.

“Was that a bomb?” the woman standing next to her asked.

These were the first words spoken by Chelsea. She died three days later.

 

 

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Xs & Os by Nicole DragonBeck

For Kalvin, thank you for leaving out all the forty-two dollar words 🙂

Imagine my surprise when, upon answering a midnight call, I was greeted by my own voice.

“This is going to be a short story, because I don’t have much time and the universe is conspiring against me even as I speak. It’s cold here, in this other place with no time, but there’s a warmth to it as well.”

My voice sounded strange to my own ears, more so than usual. I sounded older, more worn. My skin prickled, and I fought the urge to slam the receiver down. Ignorance is bliss. But some inner strength made me listen further, a strength I suspected the person on the other end of the receiver knew a lot more about than I did.

“There are many steps between where you are now, and this place that is your fate. Someone is coming for you, someone you should listen to. Running is pointless. They will follow you and there is nothing you could do about. I already know what you’re thinking…”

This is crazy, nothing in the future is set. My actions will determine your face.

“This is cray, nothing in the future is set, but your actions will not determine your fate. Your fate has already been determined, but others of far greater power than yourself. They are the called the Dorfrenti, or the Faceless Ones, depending on who you ask.”

The name sent shivers down my spine, sending cold pools of ice settling in my stomach. Somewhere, in some other universe, I knew that I had come across these Faceless Ones. And it didn’t turn out too well for me. The thought came out of nowhere and hit me harder than a punch. A squeal from the recording rang in my ears then a painful tightening in my chest made me gasp. It was like some invisible hand had reached through my ribs and was squeezing my heart. For a second I was afraid I was going to die, then it eased up and I could breath again. The ringing in my ears faded, but my head pounded as if I had run a mile in the sun. I had to rewind the recording because I hadn’t heard it.

“They have powers that you cannot imagine, and if you go with them, you can learn the most wonderful things. Things of magic”

Another harsh whine spat from the machine, and the squeeze in my chest came again. Pain blurred my vision. Before everything went black, whatever it was let go of me, and I clutched at the bench. It took every ounce of my strength to remain upright. The words the voice was still speaking, but the words washed over me, meaningless.

“…that’s all I have to say, except one last warning. Don’t trust anyone, except yourself. No one is who they say, and nothing is what it seems. And whatever you do, do not follow the Xs and Os.”

The recording whirred and clicked and the fell silent. I was tense, waiting for another wave of pain. It didn’t come, but suddenly a heavy fog of fatigue descended, and I felt like I wanted to sleep for a month. This was too much for so early on a Sunday.

Trust no one. That wasn’t very helpful. And what about those Faceless Ones, the ones whose real name made my skin crawl – I couldn’t face these Faceless Ones on my own. I wasn’t that smart, or that brave, or that powerful. Trust no one. Then another thought came: does that mean I can’t even trust myself?

A shadow moved past the door, and my heart leaped to my throat and began pounding. Was it the Faceless Ones, come already? The shadow paused, the letter box rattled, and a white envelope shot out. I stood frozen, watching the shadow, then in a blink it was gone. In shaking steps, I moved to the door, and picked up the letter. Inside the envelope was one sheet of paper, with a simple message, written in a hand I knew better than anyone else’s, because it was mine.

Follow the Xs and Os.

 

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Ted the Accountant by Lisa Barry

For Remi Paquette, I hope you enjoy it!

Ted, the accountant walked out on stage and looking over the assembled gods realized that this was not going to be a fun presentation.

Clearing his throat, Ted nodded at the crowd and then turned to his laptop, already connected to the big screen before them. He cleared his throat again and tried to steady his hand before turning back to the crowd.

He gave a weak smile as he fished the laser pointer from his pocket and aimed it at the pie chart on the screen.

“Thank you all for coming today,” Ted said and cringed as his voice boomed by some god’s will over the colosseum.

“I am one of the forensic accountants for Athena.” The crowd turned to look at her where she sat demurely at the end of the second row on the left. She had a small smile on her face but ignored them all.

“As I am sure you all know, most gods take a portion of the collection from the various churches dedicated to their name and use it for their whims on the various planets,” Ted continued. “Madame Athena is no stranger to these practices. Since the advent of the digital world in three of those planets, we have recently upgraded our own systems to track things this way and several gods have even taken classes in the many accounting practices so as to be as knowledgeable as any planetary creature in this nature.”

Someone laughed in the crowd and tried to cover it up with a cough but everyone turned to glare at Hermes. He scratched his eyebrow, middle finger up, his lips quirked.

Ted continued hesitantly. “It has come to the attention of Madame Athena that there are some unusual expenditures on the Earth region. Some of you haven’t dealt with Humans in half a millennium but someone of you are active and visit even now…”

“And we know who you are,” Athena’s voice blanketed the crowd. Ted cringed slightly before continuing. He pointed his laser to the screen. It reflected off a number.

“There are 30,116 visiting gods on earth at any given time…”

“Lies!” someone shouted from the back.

“Put a grape in it, Ares,” Hera shot back, “We all know our procreation is out of control there.”

Hermes choked out a laugh before the room once again gave Ted their attention.

“The problem is not so much the expenditures, odd though they are, but the issue is more with the amount of earth dollars being spent.” Ted cleared his throat again before continuing. He removed his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief before replacing them and continuing.

“The total of all the various god collections on earth does not even cover the amount that is being spent. What that tells us is that at least one god is,” Ted stopped for a moment and looked at Athena. Her eyes narrowed. Fear rolled over him but he pushed through it. “Living on earth and either earning or stealing to create the funds.”

“How can you prove this,” shouted a deep voice. Thanatos. Ever since Hades started getting so much attention, the daemon tended to be a constant voice at any meetings with more than five gods in attendance.

“What if you live there less than six months of the earth year?” a soft, polite voice asked from seemingly everywhere. Ted thought it might be Hecate.

And he was stumped. He couldn’t recall any law against such a thing. He saw Athena change positions in her chair. Ted started to sweat again. He was supposed to be the expert. Pulled from earth almost year ago, Ted had been sent to the libraries to learn every law on finance and exchange that could be found. Every scroll unrolled, every tablet translated. He had been given the gift of all language by Athena herself and had been content until she forced him to attend the gods in this manner.

Ted gave a silent prayer but after seeing the sudden smirk on Hermes face, his backbone straightened slightly.

“If you were to refer to earth laws, specifically the rules of the Unites States of America, then a person living in one state for more than six months constitutes a homestead. However, there is no law requiring homestead for someone living there for less than six months. From all the tombs I’ve read here in the library of Asgard, I find no reference for or against living somewhere for such a time.”

Ted stared at his feet and waited. The purpose of his presentation was to weed out the gods living on earth and potentially wreaking havoc on their economy. He risked a glance at Athena who was definitely the instigator. She sat, thinking he thought.

It was Hecate who spoke again. Her voice crept in from the sides making you query if she was beside, behind or in front of you. “I have been spending much time in this place called Vegas. I like it. Reminds me of the old days.”

A chuckle from the back. Was that Odin? Ted scanned the back. Odin generally was front center but he seemed to be staying clear of these notions of Athena. Ted scrunched his brows as he guessed why. Perhaps Odin too was enjoying Vegas periodically.

“I too enjoy earth for longer duration,” a calm voice floated easily over the crowd. Several gods and goddesses turned around to stare at Lokey. “What?” His eyes shined with mischief, “It’s fun. I’m fond of the gambling, the smokey rooms, the hot girls, the thieving, the whoring…”

“Enough!” Athena’s voice echoed hushing everyone as it went before it cut off like someone had pulled the PA plug. There was an odd noise and then the end of Athena’s sigh echoed around the room.

“Ted, why don’t you go ahead and pack up. Please leave your slides as I would like to review them again. Directors of the Board, I request your presence in Valhalla for brunch and discussion on the handling of this overage we are experiencing in the mortal realm.

There was some muttering, a few boos and a cat call. Ted wondered the purpose of the cat call and then remembered present company and gave up. He packed everything up quickly and left the stage. Ten minutes later he slipped into his apartment, a small but suitable affair just off the Garden of Eden replica and near the Pool of Life. He grabbed a bag of popcorn and sunk into his favorite chair. He had survived another day. His contract would be up in one month, two weeks, three days.

Ted flipped on the TV and with a toss of popcorn into his mouth, he prepared to outsmart the contestants of Jeopardy again.

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